Florida Panthers: Sam Montembeault Looks Ready to Replace Luongo

Florida Panthers goalie Sam Montembeault makes a save against against the New York Islanders during overtime at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., on Thursday, April 4, 2019. The Islanders won, 2-1, in a shootout. (David Santiago/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)
Florida Panthers goalie Sam Montembeault makes a save against against the New York Islanders during overtime at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., on Thursday, April 4, 2019. The Islanders won, 2-1, in a shootout. (David Santiago/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images) /

Towards the end of the 2018-19 season, a new face emerged as the No. 1 goaltender in the Florida Panthers organization.

With an injury to backup goalie James Reimer, Dale Tallon called up 22-year old Sam Montembeault from AHL Springfield. Montembeault had never played in the NHL regular season prior and made his name known in the organization.

The promotion for Montembeault was well deserved. During the 2018-19 AHL season, Monty posted a 13-14-8 record, a 3.16 goals against average, a .901 save percentage and one shutout. He also represented Springfield at the AHL All-Star Game.

The 2015 third-round pick made his NHL debut on March 2nd, making 22 saves on 26 shots in a 4-3 overtime loss to Carolina.

He did well to recover his confidence after giving up two goals inside the opening two minutes to Brock McGinn and Greg McKegg, both in which weren’t really his fault.

McGinn scored on a defensive zone turnover by Keith Yandle and McKegg scored after Panthers’ winger Dryden Hunt left his man wide open in the slot.

Monty’s bounce back following the loss was impeccable for the young keeper. He won his next four starts, posting north of a .926 save percentage over three of the starts, with the exception of the win at Los Angeles, in which Montembeault still saved 24 shots.

Despite only winning two of the four starts he had on the late-season Western Conference road trip, Montembeault showed that he could be a consistent starter in the NHL.

A lot of the goals he gave up weren’t necessarily his fault, but rather the weaknesses of the defense. One of his better saves from the road trip came on Anaheim Ducks forward Rickard Rakell.

The forward breaks right through the heart of the defense, splitting through Mike Matheson and Keith Yandle.

Monty stays on top of Rakell’s movement towards the left to escape Yandle to deny him with the pads. The Panthers could only half-clear the puck, presenting Jacob Larsson with plenty of time and space to shoot, but Montembeault dives back to his left to make a great save.

One thing that Montembeault has as an advantage over Roberto Luongo is youth. While it might be harder to slow goalies down with old age in comparison to defensemen or forwards, young options have their perks.

Luongo has dealt with multiple injuries over the course of his career, especially in the last three seasons. These injuries have hampered his ability to cover the whole goal on a consistent basis.

For example, Ben Hutton’s goal against the Cats back in January helped lift Vancouver to a 5-1 win over Florida.

Luongo makes a save to deny the initial wrist shot, but cannot keep hold of the puck. The puck wriggles to the other side for Hutton, who snaps a wrist shot on goal before Luongo can turn around. He flaps his glove at it but was too far behind to snag the puck, and Vancouver retakes the lead.

Montembeault was praised by Bob Boughner on multiple occasions for helping out the rest of his team play with his speed and care with the puck.

His speed helps him keep the edge on opposing forwards, able to shut them down by staying one step ahead of where the puck will go.

With a good, young goalie for the future, it’s ideal that the Panthers can keep developing Montembeault. The Panthers, like all organizations, aim for playoff success.

Last time around, goaltender Roberto Luongo was a shadow of his regular-season form. The Cats’ No. 1 had two appalling performances against the New York Islanders in 2015-16, giving up five goals in game 1 and two soft goals to then-Islanders captain John Tavares, one on a rebound and one on a wrap-around.

Come playoff time, a good goalie can be the difference between a pretender and a true contender. For proof on this, look at some of the performances that St. Louis Blues’ goalie Jordan Binnington has put in this postseason.

Previously, St. Louis had struggled in April, with Jake Allen showing massive signs of inconsistency.

Look at 2017, where one round Allen would play out of his mind as the Blues pushed aside Minnesota to win in five games as underdogs.

Then, Allen’s flaws were exposed as they were held down by Nashville in six games. This year, Binnington’s performances have led the Blues to the second round, upsetting a widely-considered cup contender in the Winnipeg Jets.

If Montembeault can continue to develop, the Panthers will have a huge weight lifted off their shoulders. The problem, right now, is the defense.

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A goalie can only be as good as the men in front of him, so when he is peppered with grade A scoring chances from the opposition, we can’t expect for him to turn into, say, Carey Price.

His confidence levels sputtered in the last couple of weeks, with Montembeault being pulled after 4:21 in an embarrassing road loss to the Maple Leafs.

Montembeault let in two goals on just four shots that game, but neither were really his fault. Lack of clearing the puck and easy passes carved the Panthers wide open, and Montembeault was left out to dry. To help develop him, the Cats need to give him more help defensively.

Montembeault’s role for next season is still up in the air. If free agency brings a star goalie, like Sergei Bobrovsky, Montembeault could be relegated to backing up once again.

However, if the Panthers fail in free agency, expect Montembeault to be the No. 1 option on the pecking order. In his time up, Monty started 10 of the last 19 Panthers games, including starts in 6 consecutive games from March 8th to March 19th.

Next. Josh Brown Earns Roster Spot in Rookie Season. dark

If Montembeault can improve with the defense next season, we might be seeing a true heir to Luongo’s throne in South Florida for years to come.